The Score: Donald Trump, Conspiracy Theories, Corey Stewart, Tim Kaine
This week on The Score – Corey Stewart and Tim Kaine debate in Hot Springs. Is President Trump a gullible consumer of conspiracy theories? How deep into American history do these conspiracies go?
Stewart and Kaine at the Homestead
On July 21 at the historic Homestead resort in Hot Springs, two of the three candidates for the U.S. Senate from Virginia debated for an hour and a half in a session moderated by PBS news anchor, Judy Woodruff.
While Libertarian nominee Matt Waters was not invited to participate by the debate sponsors, the Virginia Bar Association, both Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine and Republican challenger Corey Stewart had a vigorous exchange.
After the debate, both candidates made themselves available for questions from the press. I was ready with something I consider a “softball question” for congressional candidates, but a question that often elicits much substance about the way a candidate thinks about the role of Congress. The question was, how can Congress reassert or reclaim its constitutional authority from the Executive Branch?
Corey Stewart’s response was short and lacked substance, and he tries to get away from me and other members of the news media.
Here’s a brief transcription; it’s important to get this on the record.
The Score: For more than 50 years, Congress has been ceding authority to the President. What would you do to reclaim the Article I authority of Congress? How can you strengthen Congress’ spine?
Stewart: (Laughs) You’re trying to strengthen his spine? He’s got none.
The Score: I’m talking about …
Stewart: (Interrupts) I’m talking about Tim Kaine. Talk about a weak spine! That’s the guy right there.
The Score: I’m not talking about Senator Kaine. I’m talking about Congress as a whole. What can Congress do to reassert its authority under the Constitution?
Stewart: Maybe take some protein shakes in the morning. Maybe that would work.
The Score: So you don’t have a serious answer to that question?
Stewart: Well, I think that the President is doing a good job of leading. I think that the Senate and the House need to do a better job of following his leadership and getting good things done for the country.
The Score: So you say Congress should not retake its authority; you should follow the President only?
Stewart: (walking away) I believe in the Constitution.
The Score: Maybe.
Now, in contrast, Tim Kaine has obviously thought about this question before. He has a two-part answer, first on trade authority and then on war powers. Whether you agree with his response or not, he had least had the courtesy to treat my question seriously and understood that Congress has, indeed, ceded its authority to the Executive Branch. (One wonders whether Corey Stewart would have said Congress should “do a better job of following” the President if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election.) While it was clear that he had someplace else to go, Senator Kaine also stuck around to let me ask a second question before he left the Homestead ballroom.
I hope to have a chance to sit down with each candidate – as well as Matt Waters – between now and November 6th, in order to have a longer conversation about the issues and what the proper role of the Senate is in the 21st century.
Libertarian Thoughts on Virginia Politics
John Vaught LaBeaume is a Libertarian political consultant and observer of politics. He was campaign manager for Robert Sarvis in 2013, when Sarvis ran for governor of Virginia, and he played that same role for Cliff Hyra during his 2017 gubernatorial campaign. LaBeaume also worked in the communications office of the Gary Johnson/Bill Weld presidential campaign in 2016.
In our conversation, he reflected on the Sarvis and Hyra campaigns and on how Libertarian candidates can have an impact on Virginia politics and policy even if they don’t win elections.
President Trump and Unverified Facts
Last week at the Cato Institute in Washington, I chatted with senior fellow Julian Sanchez, who focuses issues at the busy intersection of technology, privacy, and civil liberties. He is co-author, with Brink Lindsey, of The Politics of Abundance (2007). Sanchez caught my attention with a recently-published article in the Washington Post Outlook section. The headline was: “Trump Could Get His Intel from the Government. Instead, He Gets It from Fox News.” A key passage:
…it remains striking that Trump seems so uninterested in using the vast resources of the presidency to discover whether there’s any validity to the stories he broadcasts to his online audience of millions.
If Trump sincerely believes these stories, that ought to be cause for intense concern: We expect a president to rely on solid intelligence, not blogs and cable news, when making life-and-death national security decisions. But a more cynical interpretation is that the truth or falsehood of these claims is beside the point for Trump: His symbiotic relationship with right-wing media permits him to have it both ways in his public pronouncements.
I asked Sanchez about conspiracy theories in general, and why the President of the United States believes them rather than his own government agencies. It was clear he enjoys talking about this topic, which is both intriguing and entertaining.
You can follow Julian Sanchez on Twitter at @normative.
From the Archives
While we’re on the subject of conspiracy theories, I reached into the archives to find an interview from five years ago with author and historian Jesse Walker about his then-new book, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. We spoke, coincidentally, on September 11, 2013. Here’s an excerpt:
“There are a lot of anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which is not to say that anyone who believes in a conspiracy theory shares those bigotries,” Walker explained.
“Of those conspiracy theories that involve scapegoating a group, the three that seem to have the most potent influence in American history were those involving Catholics, blacks, or Indians. Obviously, there are also ones involving Jews, gays, liberals, conservatives, and others, but those were the big three.”
On the other hand, he said, “if I were writing a history of European paranoia, anti-Semitism would be much closer to the core,” adding that there are “a number of anti-Semites in the book,” which focuses on American history.
Thanks for listening to The Score this week. We will be back next week with more news, interviews, and reviews. Be sure to tell your friends where to find The Score from Bearing Drift.